Six-time world champion Lewis Hamilton says he is “very, very surprised” that the Australian Formula One Grand Prix in Melbourne is being held amid coronavirus fears, while suggesting financial considerations are the reason why.
- Lewis Hamilton says he is deeply concerned the Australian Grand Prix is still being held
- Hamilton said “cash is king”, hinting financial reasons lie behind why it has not been cancelled
- McLaren Racing withdrew from the race on Thursday night after a team member tested positive for coronavirus
On a day when the NBA suspended its 2019/20 season, Hamilton did not hold back when asked if he thought the race at the Albert Park circuit should go ahead after it emerged today that eight Formula One team staff had been quarantined and tested for the virus.
It was later confirmed that the McLaren Racing team had withdrawn from the race following the positive test of a team member for coronavirus.
“I am really very, very surprised that we are here,” Hamilton told a media conference in Melbourne.
“For me, it is shocking that we are all sitting in this [media conference] room.
“It seems like the rest of the world is reacting … you see the NBA has been suspended, yet Formula One continues to go on.
“It’s a concern for the people here. We bring quite a big circus here. It’s definitely concerning for me.”
Asked why he thought the Australian Grand Prix was still going ahead, Hamilton said: “Cash is king, but I honestly don’t know.
“But the fact is we are here and I want everyone just to be as careful as they can be, I hope fans take precautions.
“I hope we get through this weekend and we don’t see any fatalities or things like that in the future.”
Ricciardo ‘happy’ to race in Melbourne
Australia’s Renault driver Daniel Ricciardo was more reserved when asked whether the season-opening grand prix should be held.
“I have to put my trust in the [Formula One governing body] FIA,” he said.
“I haven’t spent too much time digging into detail [about coronavirus]. I don’t know the extent of it [but] the racer in me is happy I am here.”
Prior to McLaren Racing’s withdrawal, Victorian Health Minister Jenny Mikakos warned that positive tests at Albert Park could stop the race from being held on Sunday.
“We have not reached the point in time where we need to take these extreme measures but we will not hesitate to take those steps if we get that advice because we will prioritise public health,” she said.
The second stop on the Formula One calendar — the Bahrain GP — has banned spectators from attending the March 22 race, while the fourth leg of the season — the Chinese Grand Prix — has been postponed.
Yet despite the coronavirus fears, fans turned up in droves at the Albert Park circuit today for the opening day of action on the Australian Grand Prix program.
Fans packed the venue to watch practice and qualifying for support categories including Supercars after Australian Grand Prix Corporation chief executive Andrew Westacott earlier this week confirmed there was “no chance” of a spectator ban at Albert Park.